It’s likely that you’ve heard of Ebbinghaus forgetting or retention curve. It’s the research undertaken by Hermann Ebbinghaus over 100 years ago that proved, without retention aids, people forget 50% of content an hour after learning, 70% within a day and 90% within a week. Ebbinghaus called this the “Forgetting Curve”. The study has been re-tested many times and is still relevant today.
Ebbinghaus went on to prove that the downward curve of “forgetting” is significantly reduced when intentional retention techniques are scheduled, post-learning.
These techniques range from reflections, revision, engagement, practice as well as many others, which, when used the hours, days and weeks after training, help remind the individual of the topics learnt and secure them into the long-term memory.
90% of learning is forgotten within one week if retention aids aren’t put in place by the learner. 90% is a considerable loss of potential knowledge, and it triggers the thought – if the organisation isn’t providing a supportive environment that assists staff in knowledge retention, is the organisation wasting 90% of their learning budget?
Creating an environment that encourages knowledge retention need not be elaborate or costly, however, it requires top-down support and L&D and HR to drive the change.
If your organisation wants to make the most of their learning budget the most cost-effective way is to incorporate knowledge retention and reflection into the working day of your staff.
Principal areas for HR and L&D to consider are:
- Provide time and support
Provide employees with quality time to learn and, fundamentally, subsequent time to reflect. This might be a quick half an hour a couple of times in the weeks post-course or it might be something lengthier depending on the complexity of the topic. Build this into the weekly or monthly schedule so that it is integrated into working life. Don’t consider the time it takes to complete a course rather the total time required for learning. Build and roll out a formula to the business that allows individuals time to digest the learning.
ROI is the holy grail of L&D – for many, it’s an elusive and complex formula to prove. However, the allocation of time, to enable individuals to review and reflect, is not a complicated process and is the starting point for encouraging knowledge retention.
- Provide supportive tools
Consider providing software to support a learning portfolio. This might be in the form of an LMS, an ePortfolio or a productivity platform such as Evernote. There are a range of ePortfolios on the market which helps individuals to build their portfolio, many use engagement techniques to help encourage the user, are responsive and mobile and encourage note-taking and reminders. Many also provide collaboration tools.
- Support Managers
Encouraging staff to take control of their own development and be engaged in the end to end process, requires strong leadership and management. Having managers on-board with the change is crucial to its success. Managers need to empower individuals to take revision time, be supportive of reflection, and be open and collaborative in their approach. Ultimately HR may encourage learning outcomes to be built into the performance review and appraisal process, but also for individuals to hold their managers accountable if they aren’t supportive of the learning strategy. Once established many managers find that their role simplified as individuals choose to learn rather than being pushed to do so.
- Include peer-to-peer training, shadowing and mentoring
Retaining knowledge isn’t just about the learning activity and needn’t be in isolation. Provide activities that encourage cross-industry or company networking for example conference visits and secondments. The most successful companies have robust mentoring schemes embedded in the workplace. An American Society for Training and Development study found that 71% of Fortune 500 companies have a corporate mentorship program. It also found that 75% of executives credit their mentors with helping them reach their current positions.
The positive bottom-line benefits of creating an environment where knowledge retention is encouraged and supported are numerous:
- Increased motivation, productivity, loyalty and retention
- Improved job performance
- Aiding recruitment and being seen as an employer of choice
Staff who feel valued are more likely to stay at an organisation, and there is a positive correlation between well-structured learning, motivation and productivity. When employers invest in their employees by providing them with opportunities to learn new skills, it signals an investment in their present and future career growth.